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The Book of Harlan

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,314 ratings  ·  453 reviews
During World War II, two African American musicians are captured by the Nazis in Paris and imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan’s parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he becomes a musician. Soon, Harlan and hi
Paperback, 400 pages
Published May 3rd 2016 by Akashic Books (first published April 11th 2016)
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Bernice McFadden The Brown Shoes represents Harlan's guardian angel - his grandfather.
The Brown Shoes represents Harlan's guardian angel - his grandfather.
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Annette That never occurred to me that the headline could be Harlan's sons. But if it is, although incredibly tragic, it makes sense based on Gwen's feelings …moreThat never occurred to me that the headline could be Harlan's sons. But if it is, although incredibly tragic, it makes sense based on Gwen's feelings towards motherhood. (less)

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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
I give 3.8 stars to The Book of Harlan, Bernice McFadden's newest book which details the life of her grandfather Harlan McFadden. I completed this book that read quickly over the course of a day. McFadden shares the ups and downs of Harlan's life and shares what it meant to be African American in the first half of the 20th century. Here is Harlan's story.

Harlan was born on December 24, 1917 to Sam and Chappo McFadden (depicted in this book as Sam and Emma Elliot). The Elliots determined to make
Lauren Cecile
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars!! I had to take off half a point because of the ending which, without giving away anything, is contrary to what actually happened to an important Nazi figure. I don't care for revisionist history unless it's in a speculative work. Although, in retrospect, it could have just been the protagonist's reality.
Bernice McFadden has written an epic novel about African-American life from the early 1900s to 1973. Apparently the novel is partly biographical, the main character being based on her
lark benobi
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this book very much. I loved it. There is so much to love in these pages, and so much attention to history. There is a loving attention to characters and their foibles that I found very endearing. I cared a lot about these people. The story resolved itself in an ending that, although completely implausible, was entirely satisfying. It was that kind of story--a story where I loved the characters and wanted good things to happen to them. The book is much more about heart than hea ...more
Nov 14, 2020 rated it liked it
[3.4] This book follows Harlan's story from the early 1900s before his birth, to the mid 1970s and touches on a plethora of historical figures and events. I like McFadden's writing style, but never connected to Harlan - perhaps because of her whirlwind approach. I read that she based the book on her grandfather. That makes sense. Harlan never felt real to me - perhaps he was too protected by the author's memories to fill out into a complex character. I will read more by McFadden. ...more
I was over half way through this book before settling in, which makes it hard to rate. The only reason I didn't quit the book is because several of my trusted reviewers gave it 4 and 5 stars. I'm glad I stuck with it because I really started to like it around page 195 and at page 278 I started to love it. Problem with that is the book is only 342 pages.

Even before I started to really enjoy the read, I wasn't oblivious to all the wonderful historical tidbits sprinkled through each chapter. As wi
J Beckett
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Author: Bernice McFadden

Print Length: 354 pages (Kindle); 400 pages (hardcover)

Publisher: Akashic Books; Reprint edition (April 11, 2016)

Publication Date: April 11, 2016

"The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion." --Frederick Douglass (printed in The Book of Harlan, page 281, Kindle)

There are rare literary moments when a reader is given a gift so magnificent that it defies adequate definition; when Seshat embraces and guides the writer's pen and thoughts, leading them thr
Monica **can't read fast enough**
Although The Book of Harlan is about the life and experiences of Harlan, there are many other vignettes throughout the book that focus on the lives of other characters. I am very thankful for that because the other stories are what actually saved the overall story for me. I did not like Harlan at all. He was a selfish, misogynistic, womanizer who was careless with his words and actions. His selfishness extended to his parents, friends, and lovers alike. I did feel sorry for Harlan, because he su ...more
Brown Girl Reading
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of quality stories written by African-American Women Writers
Shirley Schwartz
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I received this book as an early reviewer copy. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to read it. This is a remarkable story of a man who was born in 1917 - lived through the Roaring 20's, the Great Depression, World War II and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. All the tumult that occurs in the world during this time is reflected in the life of Harlan Elliot. Harlan was born in Macon Georgia and spent his early life there with his grandparents. When Harlan's moth ...more
Jamise | Spines & Vines
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
ABSOLUTELY STUNNING! To say this is a "must read" is an understatement. Prepare yourself for a magical journey as McFadden catapults you into the life of Harlan. The short and impactful chapters kept me captivated as I devoured each page. McFadden's writing style grabs you instantly and she never lets you go. She exposes life and it's circumstances in a humanly raw magnitude that any reader can relate to.

You are transported back in time and deposited into monumental eras of history. McFadden's
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5-4 stars. This was a quick read. I found the author's style to be engaging and the story to be compelling. Bernice McFadden tells a fictionalized version of her grandfather Harlan's life, from his parents' meeting to Harlan's middle age. The author describes Harlem in the years before WWII and Harlan and his family's life there, and how Harlan ended up in France, and most frightening, how he ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Though the author doesn't get into detail of the ...more
Jun 20, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is based on the author's paternal grandfather. The following is to be found on the author's web site:

The Book of Harlan was inspired by the life of my paternal grandfather; Harold Isaac McFadden (pictured on the cover).

I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.

In many ways, this book is the culmination of twenty years of family history research.

From t
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
To me, the essence of all books is the characters. If you like a character, you find a way to like the book. McFadden does something quite difficult, here. She writes characters that are unlikable, flawed and who act badly, but yet she imbues than with so much humanity that the reader can’t help but root for them.

For most of the book, McFadden does a great job of interweaving historical fact with fiction. For some reason, there was a chapter where McFadden listed a bunch of historical events. T
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars. I'm deducting a half point because I feel too large a time period was crammed into these pages. I would have preferred a bit more detail in some of the story-telling especially closer to the end although perhaps that would have detracted from the steam-roller effect. But that aside, this is one powerful and emotionally draining story that I had to put down to breath every now and then. There are quite a few events in the book that sent me sprawling, left me depleted. The phrase "packs ...more
It's hard to know what to say about this book, because it is so rich and compelling. It is one man's tragic, epic life, and an unflinching, raw look at how trauma haunts survivors. Harlan's post-liberation life didn't follow the redemptive narrative I expected, and the book is richer for it. This was the first Bernice McFadden book I have read; it won't be the last. ...more
Ezinwanyi Chinyere
Wow. I almost quit this book but I am glad I didn’t. This book is really touched my soul. I have never given much thought to black people in the context of World War II period as most of the narrative revolves around the Jewish Experience. This is the most detailed accounting I’ve personally read about a real black person captured and sent to a concentration camp.

Harlan Elliot grew up in that 1920’s period where music was going through a revolution. Harlan, his best friend Leo “Lizard” Rubenstei
Joy Wright
She has done it again! I have read 7 of McFadden's 15 novels and every time I finish one, I sit in awe of her gift. The Book of Harlan is a book that takes the reader through the history (roughly 57 years) of not only a man but also Black culture. From Macon, Georgia to New York City, to France, to Germany, and back to the States, the reader is thrust into the life of Harlan will have a difficult time pulling away from all that happens in this 342 page novel. Now my charge is to read the rest of ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I will first say that I don't read much historical fiction at all. The Book of Harlan was amazing to me. I love how McFadden wove this story together. I loved all the characters in this book but Lizard was my favorite. The themes in this book are remarkable! I'm looking forward to passing this book on to my son who loves historical fiction. Definitely looking forward to discussing this with my book group at brunch today! ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. The publishing of any Bernice McFadden book is an event, not simply another book being released. She has done it again with this excellent novel. The Book of Harlan can be described as a historical novel, but that description doesn't really do it justice, because it is much more than just historical. She uses very short chapters to great effect, it certainly helps the feel of the book as a fast paced page turner.

Bernice's prose as usual is imperia
Dec 19, 2019 added it
I cannot begin to explain how beautiful and heartbreaking this book was. 

I admit, I have developed a thick skin because I read so much, and sometimes that means books don't always emotionally overwhelm me the way they should.

This was NOT the case with,  The Book of Harlan .

I, originally, had this as a book club selection, but then felt like this was too heavy to expect everyone to jump into this one for a book chat. 

The honest truth is that I weeped through a good portion of this book and ther
Dosha (Bluestocking7) Beard
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, black-lit
This is my first McFadden, it sure will not be my last. What a voice! I started laughing at the blunt open way she faces some delicate issues and kept chuckling along to the middle of the book. As Ms. McFadden describes the life of the family of Harlan; she gives all readers insight to what is personal and public in their lives beginning 1915, and quickly moving forward to 1917 Macon Georgia where Harlan is born. The chapters are short, and that makes it easy to finish a chapter before going to ...more
Missy J

Quick reading (however, this month I was very busy, so it took some time to finish this book).
I loved that the chapters were short and that the author focused on the action rather than the tiny details. On the other hand, one may criticize this rushed tempo for being superficial and glancing over horrific historical events (segregation in the South, Buchenwald concentration camp, the rising crime rate of Harlem).

This novel really packs on a lot of material. Harlan Elliot is the son of two b
Maya B
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book, it was such an immersive experience, I could feel myself slowing it right down not wanting it to end.

What a memorable Sunday I spent reading through the thirties and every time she mentioned one of the singers or musicians thanks to YouTube I could play Bessie Smith's most popular song, watch Cab Calloway sing and dance Minnie the Moocher, listen to Lucille Hegamin.

The Book of Harlan is just that, the life of a boy, an only child that begins in the town of Macon, G
I thought I knew what I'd be getting with The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden, and in some ways I was right, but in others I was wrong. Yes, this is a novel about an African American musician who is sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis. It's also about a number of other significant issues. When a book attempts to address so much, can it be successful? My feeling is that some aspects of The Book of Harlan were more successful than others.

The portrayal of Harlan was the best thing about
Liz Janet
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I received this book for review from Goodreads and Akashic Books, in exchange for an honest review.

"On the outside, Emma didn't seem to want from anything, but let's be clear-she was starving on the inside. Not the coal-burning-belly type of hunger of the destitute, but he agonizing longing of a free spirit, caged."

This book is the story of many people, not just Harlan, it just so happens that all those other people are connected to him in some shape or form. His parents, best friends, lovers,
Sarah Weathersby
Can we say six stars? This is Bernice L. McFadden's best book ever! Her prose is stunning, gliding over an epic of horrific proportions.

We meet Harlan's parents Sam Elliot, and Emma Robinson before he was conceived, while Emma was too innocent to protect herself. But they did the best they could, leaving Harlan with his doting grandmother while the young couple goes off seeking their fortune from Macon to Louisville to Michigan, returning home to Macon when Emma's father Tenant Robinson dies. W
I Be Reading
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
** I won a copy of this novel in a Goodreads giveaway.**

Simply put, Bernice McFadden is a master storyteller and there is not a book of hers that exists that I don't absolutely love. "The Book of Harlan" is no exception.

As an amateur genealogist, the fact that this novel is based on Bernice's actual ancestors is especially meaningful to me. I also learned that Black people were also victims of the Holocaust and now I have a new subject to research/learn more about.

Finally I love that Bernice co
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book snuck up on me. For the first half I thought it a pleasantly light trifle that couldn't make up its mind what kind of story it was. At first I thought it was a snapshot of a young lower-middle-class black couple raising a sensitive young boy named Harlan in Macon, Georgia, in the 1920s. Then after a setting change, a Jazz-Age Harlem bildungsroman. Then a freewheeling reefer travelogue as Harlan the jazz musician gigs across France. Then, unexpectedly and startlingly, a grim concentrati ...more
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Book of Harlan is an excellent book that chronicles the life of the title character: from his humble birth in Macon, Ga to his upbringing in Harlem, NY and beyond. It also provides a picture of life in a WWII concentration camp and how challenging circumstances can make us stronger. I was on an emotional roller coaster while reading this book and when I finished, I was ready to take another ride. Read this is one of the best books I've ever read. It will have you thinking about the ...more
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BERNICE L. McFADDEN is the author of ten critically acclaimed novels including Praise Song for the Butterflies (Long listed for the 2019 Women's Prize in Fiction ) The Book of Harlan (winner of a 2017 American Book Award and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction) Sugar, Loving Donovan, Nowhere Is a Place, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (a New York Times Editors’ C ...more

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“Prison had a way of draining people of their hope and humanity. But Harlan didn't have to worry about that because he'd gone in empty.” 2 likes
“To Harlan, New York City was as chaotic and thrilling as the three-ringed circus that came through Macon each spring.

No matter which direction his head spun, there was something new and exciting to behold: white men with long beards and black hats as tall as chimney stacks; poor people begging for money; rich people walking white poodles tethered to long leather leads; blind people tapping walking sticks; fat people munching soft, salted pretzels; and middle-of-the-road people like themselves.”
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